Triggers and Coping

By Blogger A.N.

Is it that 80’s song that comes on the radio or that musk cologne smell that triggers you back to that vivid picture of your childhood sexual abuse? Or is it when a family holiday comes around and just the thought of eating a family meal, makes your stomach turn? And then, to cope with the traumatic memories that are triggered, you react in unhealthy ways, both hurting yourself and others.

For me, my greatest trigger is family holidays. When Thanksgiving gets closer, I get stressed and depressed, making my daughter and husband miserable. The last time it happened, I cried and stressed about the fact that holidays are a reminder that we are ignored by family the remainder of the year. Rather than use healthy communication skills, I gossiped and bad-mouthed my way out of the pain, but in reality just made it worse. Eventually, I utilized my faith skills and decided my belief in God and his way of bonding and treating others is more important than my need for justice. So we went to my sister-in-law’s, and as I predicted, we have had no contact since and it’s been seven months.  Now her daughter’s wedding is coming up, hopefully we’re invited…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about alternative ways of coping: how do all of us who struggle with traumatic triggers handle isolation, depression, and stress and strain on our healthy, worthwhile relationships? How do we preserve the sacred and not waste positive energy on the negative people and circumstances in our lives?

I suggest and believe in practicing skills! Regardless of our negative emotions from trauma, either from abuse or illness or simply stressful circumstances, we always have the ability to choose our reaction. So what shall it be? We may not be able to control our emotions but we can control what we do with them. When I was faced with whether to spend a holiday with a relative I am ignored by year-round, I ultimately chose radical acceptance: we are related but not bonded.

 Some coping from skills from therapy settings and books I have been exposed to through CBT and DBT, include: deep breathing; drinking hot tea; practicing a solo hobby, i.e. sewing, knitting, scrapbooking; exercise, either indoor or outdoor; green time (outside time); quality time with a safe person, who genuinely cares, accepts and brings out the best in me. This person may be a therapist. This person may be a pastor or rabbi.

What are some skills you use and what are your triggers?

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4 thoughts on “Triggers and Coping

    1. Staying in the present moment and being mindful is so important for individuals who have experienced trauma. Thanks for the reminder!

  1. Holidays have always been incredibly difficult for me too and I didn’t know why until recently. I have been giving myself the grace to skip family gatherings or just leave early. We are creating new traditions and I am beginning to look forward to those special times again. When I am triggered I tend to talk to someone that understands and pray. God has given me so much peace when I have been overwhelmed. Thank you for the great post!

    1. Starting new traditions is so important Pam! Luckily, I do have very fond childhood memories of fun holidays. My parents worked VERY hard to ensure our happiness and make holidays meaningful, but it’s adult holidays that trigger me now. The biggest reason for that is because there is distance now, so the realities of the trauma are like blaring music. I am so grateful for my husband and daughter and the healthy and safe relationship we share!

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